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"What Is Wayfinding?"

In our office, we use the word “wayfinding” 127 times an hour.


Ok, probably not that much.

But, seriously, we use it a lot, which makes sense since we are wayfinding specialists. Sure we all understand what one another is saying but we've realized that the other 99.9999% of people don't use the word wayfinding or even know what it means.

So, as the title of this article reads, “What is wayfinding?”

Our typical response is, “We help people find their way.” It sounds sarcastic, simple, and boring but it turns out to be none of those things.

Especially in large complicated environments, people get lost… a lot. And it costs organizations thousands, sometimes millions of dollars. That hospital or university that started 200 years ago as one small building is now a massive campus. What was once the front door has now become an ambulatory entrance tucked away on the backside of the building. “But that was the entrance for 25 years,” says the woman who’s been a patient since she was a child. This happens… a lot.

Change is difficult and oftentimes organizations grow and expand so fast to offer people more and better services that they forget to make them easy to find (here is what bad wayfinding looks like). So we, the wayfinding experts, create systems and devices that, without anyone noticing, help people navigate complex spaces confidently. Below are the five main devices we use to shape confident wayfinders.


We have to start by celebrating architects who design with wayfinding in mind. When a building is designed well the user journey is almost seamless. Ideally, people can find their way around a building with minimal signage or without asking anyone for directions and that is the goal. Great architecture is beautiful but it also begs those surrounded by it to move in a certain direction.

This isn’t always an easy task, but we believe it is a design problem that must be solved. In fact, we’re envisioning a signless hospital (one of the most complex spaces) by 2030. But for now, the reality is that signs are the primary wayfinding device in most spaces.


You could have guessed it. Signs are still the primary wayfinding device and are often recklessly implemented to the detriment of the wayfinder. But, at their best lost people look around to see “The sign they have been looking for.” Signage can be incredibly helpful when designed consistently and placed clearly around decision points (i.e. intersections, entrances, high-traffic areas).

Signs, inside or outside enable those lacking confidence to find POI’s, or “Points of Interest.” This could be anywhere from a small room to a lobby or conference room. Ideally, signage in high-traffic areas identifies larger, popular POI while signage further away from common areas identifies specific POI that wayfinders would be intentionally looking for, such as a specific room number.


“Keep going down the hallway and when you see the massive blue wall turn right.” When asking for directions landmarks are incredibly helpful and are sometimes in and of themselves points of interest. Artwork, sculptures, and many other things can be referenced as landmarks and serve as even better points of reference because of how unique they are versus a standard sign.


Experiential graphic design not only looks great but helps identify entire areas with unique colors and artwork. Hospitals like Nationwide Children’s in Columbus, Ohio use graphic design strategically, bringing in greenery and animals local to their area, but portray them as true to scale silhouettes, colored to denote what zone you are in.


Last but not least, technology is quickly changing the way people navigate. The odds are very high that if you’re reading this you use a navigation app such as Google Maps, Apple Maps, or Waze on your smartphone to get to new places. So why can’t we use our phones to find a loved one’s patient room on the 12th floor of a hospital we’ve never stepped inside before? Well, you can.

With technologies like Mazemap becoming more popular in hospitals, turn-by-turn directions are now available right on your smartphone in only seconds. Our hope is that whether you need to find your loved one’s room in a large hospital, or are just craving some wings and craft beer at a professional sports game that you can confidently pull out your phone and make your way there without any confusion, wandering, or added stress.

Ultimately, we have all been lost and know the feeling of being late or confused in a new space. So next time you’re talking to a wayfinding specialist, architect, graphic designer, artist, or sign fabricator say thank you.

Odds are they’ve helped you find your way more than you know.

Are you looking to position your organization for growth in the next decade? Our innovative team of designers and landscape architects specialize in solving problems to elevate your audience’s experience by designing and creating loyal customers that become lifetime ambassadors for your brand.

Whether you are part of a large healthcare system, university campus, or small business we would be honored to bring our creativity and expertise to your organization and the spaces your customers live. To learn more about PLANIT Studios and schedule a free consultation click here or call (614) 505-0375.

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